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Summer Elective Experience: My First Time in Kenya

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My name is Tenisha Anne Thomas and I am a 4th year medical student from RCSI-UCD Malaysia Campus. My elective placement took place at Malindi Subcounty Hospital, Kenya last year.

Upon applying for the electives with Medics Abroad, I was excited to discover this new country in a new continent with people who speak a different language.

Medics Abroad selected two of the best on-the-groud chaperones I could’ve asked for – Nyambura and Fadhila. I learned a lot of Swahili as well as the way the medical school program at the University of Nairobi is run. I feel truly blessed to have met them both and for that, I thank Medics Abroad for giving me friends whose places I can always crash at when I’m back in Nairobi!

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Day 1 in Nairobi and guess who got herself some African braids? Me 🙂

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Nyambura and I watched several operations being performed the day we arrived in Malindi.

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Fadhila and I before a night out in Nairobi.

Working in the continent of Africa has been a lifelong dream of mine. In countries like Malaysia, we have a surplus of doctors. However, countries such as Kenya, lack doctors. I was one of the very few medical students there, so this brought me several opportunities to assist the doctors in whatever way possible. I was able to perform many procedures on my own while I was there, such as IV cannulation, catheter insertion, and many more.

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IV cannulation for a patient

IV cannulation for a patient.

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Scrubbed in for surgery

I had also met lots of patients suffering from diseases uncommon in Malaysia, such as malaria. It was interesting to know how to use Malaria rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) practically, in a clinical setting as opposed to just knowing about the theory of it.

A heartbreaking moment for me was when I met a 7-year-old boy who was HIV positive. Upon reading his patient file, I learned that he had pulmonary tuberculosis at the age of 4. I’ve seen several patients with TB in Malaysia, but none younger than the age of 35. It was also so sad to learn that, despite having antiretrovirals to manage HIV, this boy had not been on medication due to a lack of knowledge and a strong cultural belief of the negative effects of medication. It was at that moment when I really wished I could speak ever-so-fluent Swahili to be able to explain to his parents the benefits of receiving treatment and how he would be able to live a normal life, just like every other person.

Aside from my medical electives, I was also blessed with the opportunity to assist at an orphanage on the weekends. Many of the orphans I met had lost their parents to suicide or HIV. It was heartbreaking, but I was so impressed with the work of the orphanage to provide the children with a good life and sufficient education. Every month, the orphanage would send a bag of staple food, sufficient to feed the entire family of the child.

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Visit to the orphanage
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Visit to the Blessed Generation School
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The orphanage made weekend trips to the hotel for swimming and lunch

I had several opportunities to see tons of animals as well, especially on our trip to Tsavo East National Park. I definitely have a newfound respect for the animal kingdom and was so moved to see how big a role females play, especially in the feline family. From watching a group of lionesses go hunting to watching a mother cheetah telling her sons which direction the water was in, I’ve definitely found even greater pride in being a woman. Beyonce was right – us girls really do run the world!

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Fadhila and I with our tour guide, Muhammad in Tsavo East National Park
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Found a pretty site for pictures at the Tsavo East National Park
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Three lionesses off hunting

I had also fought several fears of mine, especially when it came to taking pictures with the animals I’d seen. I must’ve held at least 5 snakes, a baby crocodile, a baby tortoise, an owl amongst a few others.

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Why yes, that IS a snake
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Me trying so hard to smile while holding a baby croc – who does that?
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Meet Maria from Seychelles!

I also had the opportunity to go snorkeling, a dream of mine since I was a kid! It was incredible to see different species of fish and the beautifully colored corals. I only wish I had brought a Go-Pro along so I could’ve taken pictures under the sea.

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Nyambura, Fadhila and I floating around

On my last day in Malindi, I made a trip to the Gedi Ruins in Watamu. It was a remarkable experience. The beauty of the ruins was so captivating. I was so glad to have been able to make a trip over to see it!

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Ruins of Gedi with my friends, Shaban and Combo
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Met this little guy at the Ruins of Gedi too

The only downside I experienced was the difference in the language spoken. However, I thoroughly enjoyed learning and speaking as much Swahili as I could, so much so that my patients believed I was Kenyan myself – that, and my African braids, of course.

All in all, my time in Kenya was the best time of my life, hands down. Having faced several challenges in 2019, I felt a sense of independence being alone in Kenya, making friends I hope to keep for life and experiences I will forever cherish. I’m so grateful for the kind hospitality I was given and all the assistance provided by Medics Abroad.

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The hotel staff made me a cake specially for me saying ”Asante Sana”, which means ‘thank you’.

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A picture of some of the hotel staff and I
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Some great friends I’d met at the hotel
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After a performance by a group of people from the Masai tribe at the hotel
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Christmas party at Sandies Tropical Village

Kenya, you can be sure that I’ll be back to see you again in no time!

Thank you so much to Medics Abroad for facilitating the best experience of my life! Couldn’t have asked for a better elective experience.

Ninakosa na kukupenda, Kenya!

Tenisha Anne Thomas

The author Tenisha Anne Thomas

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